How Modernism Ideology Influenced MacDonald’s Art Style

Art has been a vital tool used by individuals to express their opinions, feelings, or thoughts, concerning some of the issues that occur and affect society. Through art, individuals have always made images for many reasons such as communication, decoration, or even for emotional purposes to help convey certain information which they perceive may be useful to the viewer in understanding their society better. However, most of these artistic pieces have always been shaped by circumstances that occur in the environment of the artist. One of such periods that significantly influenced the world’s art was the period of modernism. During the modernism period, art was associated with many different trends and movements which makes it unique from other traditional forms of art.

Futurism, pop art, expressionism, and cubism are but some of the few aspects associated with modern art. One very influential modern artist whose artistic works revolutionized the world’s art and defined the trends of contemporary art was James MacDonald. One of his greatest pieces of work which is mostly controversial but coveted in equal measure in the contemporary society is the “Fall” painting. The “Fall” painting, therefore, remains one of the most monumental of modalities of MacDonald’s paints. This paper, therefore, examines MacDonald’s paintings, particularly the “Fall” and discusses how his style might have been influenced by the period of modernity.

Modernism refers to the period that dates back from the 1860s and 1970s and denotes the desire by many artists to ditch the old rules and conventions associated with traditional representational artwork by incorporating new ideas into their pieces of work (Burns 81). The term modernism, therefore, can be said to be a period when artists threw aside the tradition of the past and adopted the spirit of experimenting new ideas which touched on color, lines, and vision of their work. Through modernism movement, artists experimented new ways of seeing things, including new thoughts and fresh ideas about nature and society, thus giving the audience entirely new pieces of works that were not only mind-capturing but also informative on the dynamics that were associated with the modern world (“Chapman University”). Some of the issues that were associated with modernism were; the influence of technology, reinforcement by scientific discoveries, changing aspects of music, religion, and architecture, and the desire by individuals to enjoy a higher element of freedom. Hence, most of the work of artists during the period of modernism were pegged around the issues mentioned above.

James Williamson MacDonald was a Canadian artist that lived between May 31, 1897, and December 3 1960, a period with fall within the Modernism movement (“Jock MacDonald Biography”). MacDonald was one of the founders of the group Painters Eleven, a group which is credited for playing a greater role in promoting art in Canada and were also the one who initiated major national artistic movement in Canada (“Carney, Lora Senechal”). Majority of the artworks of the group were mainly based and inspired by the Canadian landscape (“Buchanan Donald”). It is because of such inspiration that saw MacDonald travel to the Canadian Rockies to paint mountains and rivers, two key objects which dominated the majority of his later work. Later in life, MacDonald got the opportunity to travel to different regions across the globe such as New York, where he got various information that would then transform his work. For instance, it is while in New York that MacDonald was amazed to the freedom of the press in the US which made him produce different artwork which was perceived to criticize the Canadian gaged press.

Generally, MacDonald was a prestigious artist whose styles were not only romantic but also full of expressions. His works were original and unique and were adored by Canadians who were not only impressed by his choice of the landscape but also everything portrayed in his paintings including the sceneries. MacDonald’s landscapes were rich in color and perfectly represented the bold treatment and resilience he used in painting these artworks even though they were often perceived to be abstract. Some of the unique features and techniques associated with MacDonald’s work which symbolizes modernism include the use of oil pastel, painting using different kinds of tools, and the use of sketch to draw some pictures. In his works, MacDonald got his inspiration from different crafts and the various social issues that were happening around him.

MacDonald lived during the period when the invention of the camera in 1825 produced significant changes in the way artists view a painting. “The photographic image replaced the function of the painting, forcing the painter to do more than just record the person or event as he saw it” (Modernism and Modern Art Movements). MacDonald was convinced that because of the presence of these cameras, artists needed to change their technique by being creative in their painting to do something that the cameras could not do. Because of the presence of technology, MacDonald redefined his artwork by adopting new techniques such as using painting strokes to produce different effects within the same image, a technique that the camera could not perform.

In the paint titled the “Fall” by MacDonald, the central motif of the artwork is the triangle that seems to aspire to the heavens. The triangle also has an elongated peak which appear to continue in its upward ascent as if going beyond the horizontal element of the picture’s frame. One key that is evident from the paint is the fact that abstract forms of the paint are disposed of evenly across the entire surface of the paint (“Joyce Zemans”). There is also the representation of the curvilinear deco design of the tree, the leaves, and the butterfly. Close examination of the paint enables the viewer to appreciate the complicated color used in the paint and how MacDonald achieves to harmonize all these colors to produce a mind-capturing and amazing piece of art. In this paint, there is no doubt that MacDonald has succeeded in creating a platform in which every critical element of the painting is strongly tied to the canvas surface to enhance conformity (“Joyce Zemans”). Also, he manages to portray the different timeless and infinite world as demonstrated by the fourth, fifth, and the sixth dimensions of the paint. In this piece of art, MacDonald illustrates the application of essential techniques such as paint brushing, use of different colors in one surface, and oil sketching, techniques which are associated with the modernism art.

Art is a valuable tool used by an artist to channel his thoughts, feelings, and ideas to the public. However, how he/she directs these ideas and opinions, and the techniques the artist adopts to achieve such an objective is highly influenced by the environment. From the above analysis, it is evident that the period that MacDonald lived in was a time of rebirth in the history of art, the modernism. Rather than just conforming to the old rules of art that existed during his time, MacDonald desire was to merge modernity and tradition to quench the viewers’ curiosity by giving an entirely new piece of art. Through his exemplary artworks such as the “Fall”, MacDonald present himself as one of the best painters the world would ever have and indicates that environment plays a vital role in influencing the works of artists.



Works Cited

Buchanan Donald. The Growth of Canadian Painting. London, Collins, 1950.

Vancouver Artgallery. Jock MacDonald: Evolving Form. 2015. Retrieved from

Burns, Janet MC. “Artistic Modernism as Nationalism in the Periphery: Canada and Mexico.” International Review of Modern Sociology (2005): 81-105.

Chapman University. Contemporary Art vs. Modern Art. Defining “Now’ from “Then”. 2015. Retrieved from

Joyce Zemans. Jock MacDonald. Fall (Modality 16) 1937. Retrieved from

Joyce Zemans. Jock MacDonald Biography. Retrieved from

Carney, Lora Senechal. Canadian Painters in a Modern World, 1925–1955: Writings and Reconsiderations. Vol. 23. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP, 2017.